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arnie maddox: a little bit about me
july 27, 2002
I'm taking the next six weeks off from writing Lately, to work on other projects.
While I'm gone, there'll be a guest columnist here, Arnie Maddox.
Some of you may remember I used to maintain a second website in addition to SENTENCE, called Jump Down the Hole. The site was dedicated to writing fiction in forms specific to the Web. For example, I had an informational site there on Antarctica, but an Antarctica re-imagined as a nation that has existed for forty thousand years (which I'm currently revising for SENTENCE), and an e-serial novel (which later evolved into my fourth novel, As Dead As Me).
Another feature on the site was The Maddox Family Home Page, in which I told the story of a fictional family through the conventions of a typical "We're the Smiths!" homepage, complete with family news, recipes, a guestbook (which I loaded with fictional entries), poetic efforts by the father, etc. The site linked to other family sites on the Internet, some of them real sites, some of them fake sites created by me, to further blur the distinction between reality and fiction.
The feature was popular. In fact, I'd get e-mails from people who'd write to Arnie thinking he was a real person, instead of me in stomach padding with a digitally receded hairline.
I dropped Jump Down the Hole in 2000 simply because it was too much work to maintain both sites. However, I still sometimes receive requests from people who want to know where they can read the Musings columns Arnie would write on his day-to-day life. Each Musing was meant to be a self-contained story which also advanced the larger story of Arnie and his fourteen year old daughter, Cindy. I structured each entry along the lines of a TV sitcom episode, a problem introduced at the beginning, which is sometimes mirrored by a subordinate story, then resolved at the end.
The first week's column here is actually not a Musing, but rather Arnie's brief autobiography, which originally appeared on his A Little Bit About Me page on the site. It gives the proper background information needed to fully enjoy the subsequent Musing entries, which will appear, one each week, in the sequence in which they were originally posted. Think of all six entries as an e-serial.
I myself will be back with a new Lately column September 7.
Of all the characters I've created over the years, Arnie is probably the most decent, albeit sometimes a bit slow on the uptake. I hope you enjoy his adventures.
A Little Bit About Me
by Arnie Maddox
I was born in one of the great little cities in the United States, Idaho Falls, Idaho, which is right over the northern border of Iowa. For all you horoscope fans, my birthday's April 2, 1960.
My dad owned a tractor shop in town, new, used and repairs, and my mom worked for years at a local bank, first as a teller, then she switched to nights verifying the night deposit bags when the kids were born, so she'd be home days. Dad got babysitting duties in the evenings while she was at work. I still remember one time when Dad was babysitting us when he twisted all the lamps around in the dining room so they shone up on the ceiling, then put on one of Karen's records and the three of us pretended we were at a discotheque. That probably sounds corny now, but it was a lot of fun back then. I sure miss him, as I know Mom and Karen do. Once Karen got married and I left for college, Mom went back on days again, but she'll be retiring soon. Last year on her fortieth anniversary at the bank all the other tellers took her out to lunch, and gave her a Mexican hat with all their names signed on it. She's got it hanging in the living room now. It was a real nice thing for them to do.
After high school I went to Weber State University, in Ogden, Utah. I majored in chemistry, something I had been interested in since I was a kid. I loved seeing what happened when one chemical got poured into another chemical. Sometimes there'd be a color change, sometimes a foul odor. Once I got my eyebrows singed. But they grew back.
I got my first job after college with Oral Arts Laboratories down in San Antonio, Texas. They sent me airfare but I decided to drive instead, starting out in my '78 Chevy from Idaho Falls, traveling by myself, twenty-two and neck-tied. I took a week getting down there, stopping off in places I heard of all my life like Kansas City, Las Vegas and Dallas. It was a lot of fun, and I met a lot of really nice people on the road.
Once I got to San Antonio I rented a one bedroom furnished apartment a few miles from where I'd be working, went to the local Target to buy some bath towels and curtains, then made my first trip to a Texas supermarket. I figured I'd get mostly frozen food because it'd be easier to cook. I was bent over into one of the bins, rolling what I thought was Texas-size frozen turkeys out of the way, then lifted one out just because it looked so funny. So help me if it wasn't a frozen cow's head. A soldier standing next to me (there're a lot of military bases in San Antonio) told me the heads are real popular in the Mexican community.
My first day at Oral Arts I showed up real nervous, wet under my armpits. I worked during college, of course, but this was my first real job. I told the receptionist who I was and who I was supposed to see, then sat in one of the chairs they keep for visitors, right next to a table with magazines lined up.
After I swallowed maybe a hundred times, one of the doors in the reception area opened and this short, bald-headed man came out, saw me sitting, and strolled over aiming his handshake at me while I was still halfway out of my chair, a Chemical Weekly sliding off my lap.
That was Mel Crenshaw, one of the nicest men I ever met. My first boss.
He took me to lunch that first day and introduced me to Mexican food, something I didn't even know existed while I was living in Idaho Falls. I had something they call green stew, served with hot tortillas to mop it all up, and refried beans and guacamole, and we washed it down with a can each of Tecate, which Mel showed me how to drink, by squeezing a lemon wedge over the hole in the can.
They call Texas the friendly state, and it sure is. By the end of my first week, I was having lunch every day with a lot of the people in my division, and was set to go bar hopping that Saturday with some of the guys who worked right next to me. I called my Mom and Dad that Sunday afternoon, told them how well I was fitting in, everything I had seen so far, and I could tell they felt proud of me. That night I made a Banquet frozen Mexican dinner, which wasn't as good as the real stuff, but it was alright, and ate it out on the little balcony that came with the place, looking out over the apartment courtyard. I felt so happy.
Living on my own now, not having to explain anything to anyone when I got home each night, I started to "sow some wild oats". I wasn't any kind of Casanova-- the guys at Oral Arts Laboratories would choke on their laughter if I tried to come off as one-- but I "got lucky" every once in a while. There were a couple of girls I dated on and off-- they went out with other guys too.
But there was no one special in my life, besides my parents and my sister Karen.
Soon I was twenty-four, which is still kind of young to be thinking about settling down, but I'll tell you what happened: I was supposed to go out with this one girl Friday night, but then me and the people on the project I was working on got to a point in our trials where it made more sense to work late that night, just so we could see the results of the tests we were running while everything was still fresh in our minds. I called the girl up to break our date, explaining why it was necessary. She was real nice about it-- said, "Oh, no problem", and give her a call some other time.
That short conversation bothered me for some reason I couldn't put my finger on, and it wasn't until an hour or so later, still thinking about it while I was running some numbers, that I realized what had bothered me: She hadn't been at all disappointed to cancel our date. It wasn't that she didn't have fun with me, or wouldn't have enjoyed going out with me that night. But she wouldn't have more fun going out with me than she would going out with half a dozen other guys, one of whom she probably called after I got off the phone. She liked me, but I wasn't special to her.
There was no reason why she should think of me as special, because I didn't think of her as special, either. She was just one of a group of girls I dated, just like I was just one of a group of guys she dated. But it made me realize I wanted someone special, and I wanted to be someone else's "someone special". I'm not saying I wanted to have a girl who would burst into tears if I broke a date with her, but I guess I did want to have a girl who would cry if she thought she might never see me again.
That night in the lab, while we were waiting for some data to crunch, was the first time I ever really talked to Lucy, who was also a chemist, and was working on this project with me and about a dozen other people. The other people had left already, so it was just me and her there.
Lucy started about the same time at Oral Arts Laboratories I did, but this was the first project we had both worked on. She said she wanted to smoke a cigarette, but we couldn't in this section of the building, so we walked out together through all the darkened labs to the rear door, which led out into the back parking lot.
Now, technically, she hadn't invited me to come along with her. We had gone over some of the programs together, and when we reached the end of that is when she said she was going to have a cigarette. But I started walking with her anyway, and she didn't seem to mind.
Before going over the results of the programs together, I had maybe talked to her five times, tops. The longest conversation I had with her was a brief one about the food in the cafeteria-- we were both standing in line next to each other. I got the feeling then-- I was ahead of her in line-- that she might have enjoyed continuing our conversation over lunch, but of course that didn't occur to me until I had already sat down with a group of my friends, and looked up to see her glance around, see where I was, then kind of wander off. I guess that had stayed in the back of my mind.
After she lit her cigarette she asked me where I thought I'd be in five years.
The question caught me off guard. I had expected her just to say something about the weather. Plus I hadn't given any thought to where I'd be in five years, other than to figure I'd probably still be at Oral Arts Laboratories, which would be fine with me.
"Not me," she said. It turns out she didn't like her job that much. She said a lot of the men didn't treat her fairly, because she was a woman. She'd get a lot of the grunt work to do, while they handled a lot of the analytics. She said she knew more about the analytics than they did.
She had a habit of looking right into my eyes while she talked to me, not in a confrontational way-- or maybe a little bit in a confrontational way-- but mostly just in a really focused way.
I'll tell you something about Lucy. She is not the type of girl you notice right away. The times I saw her before this evening I'm telling you about, she looked like a nice, girl-next-door type, meaning that I thought she was about average looking (I don't mean that in a bad way, I just mean she wasn't someone you really noticed). But once I started talking to her, and really started noticing her eyes, and her cheeks and her lips, it started dawning on me that she was really a beautiful woman. She had dark hair, which she wore then kind of long, past her shoulders, with dark eyes, a slightly hooked nose, and a mouth that was a little buck-toothed. Now, that doesn't sound like Pamela Sue Anderson, but somehow on her, and the way her eyes would get really bright and roll around sometimes when she said something funny, and the way she laughed a lot, and the way her mouth never completely closed, it always hung open a little bit-- well, I think you know what I mean.
I fell in love with her. I mean really fell in love with her. Back inside, I hung around while she shook out the test tubes, then asked her to have a beer with me at this nice bar down the street. She thought about it, then shrugged and told me she had other plans.
The next day, in the morning, I located where she was in the building and asked her out for lunch. I had never in my life asked out the same girl after getting turned down. She said, "Yeah? Lunch? Okay."
After that we started dating. At the end of our first nighttime date I asked her if I could kiss her, and she kept giggling, but I kissed her anyway and then kissed her again, and she kissed back and started humming her lips against mine, then burst away from my face giggling again, waving her small hand in the air, telling me she was so sorry, but she always did this when she got nervous.
Our third date, a daytime date, I took her to one of my friend's barbecues. I felt like I was escorting the most beautiiful woman in the world (I'm not kidding). I found two folding chairs for us, sat in one and put a napkin in the other to reserve it for her. She came over holding her paper plate of food, and right in front of everyone, sat right down on my lap, put an arm around my shoulder, and ate from her plate like that, even feeding me some of her food. I have to tell you, wondering why she was walking her body so close to me, then realizing she was about to sit down in my lap, and then feeling her weight in my lap, and feeling that weight shift while she ate, or fed me food-- that was the highlight of my life (except for Cindy's birth, of course). I'm forty years old now, and I've done a couple of things along the way, but there was never a moment before or since like that twenty or so minutes she sat eating in my lap. I was on top of the world.
That night was the first time we were intimate with each other. Afterwards, she fixed me some food from my refrigerator. I couldn't sleep I was so happy, I wanted to talk all night long. She listened a long time, then she lay back down on the bed, took my head, gently rested it on one of her thighs like her thigh was a pillow, and closed her other thigh over my face (Hey, there! Keep it clean, fellas!). I fell asleep within minutes.
After that, we were an "item", and whenever one of my friends invited me to a party or something, it would always be "you and Lucy". After we had been going together for three months I took her to a fancy Friday night dinner at this restaurant on the Riverwalk, and after we ate, I gave her a small black box and asked her to marry me.
She held the black box real elegantly in her hands over her dessert plate, resting her elbows on the table, bugging her eyes at me, then just shook her head and handed the box back, unopened.
I hadn't counted on that. I asked her if she didn't at least want to see the ring, but she said she didn't. She pushed her chair back. In the car going back to my apartment-- where she practically lived-- she had clothes of hers hanging in my closet-- she said in a real nice, real quiet way that she wasn't ready to get married, and didn't know if she'd ever want to get married. I asked her to spend the night, which she did sometimes. I thought she would say no, but she said yes, and we had a good time like we always did, but I still felt let down.
There was this guy at work I knew slightly, Raymond, who seemed to me to be a little on the loud side, but I never had a problem with him. But I rarely spoke to him. Anyway, he came up to me one morning soon after Lucy turned down my proposal of marriage, and just off the bat, without even saying hello, he said, "Do you know your girlfriend's been s____ing Pretty Boy Pierson?"
Okay, Pretty Boy Pierson was Pete Pierson, but everyone called him "Pretty Boy" because some of the people there thought he was handsome. I didn't say anything, I just stared back at Raymond in shock. He had this really insulting look on his face too, like when people make their faces look really dumb because they're imitating how they think you look, and I knew I should snap out of my shock at least long enough to tell him he was full of baloney or something, and kept telling myself to do that, but each time my mind wandered back to Lucy and Pretty Boy, and I just kept on letting him hold this stupid-looking stare on me.
Finally, I excused myself and went to the men's room and locked myself in one of the stalls. I didn't sit down or anything, I just stood there thinking I'd better be prepared to sit down if anyone else comes in, so it wouldn't look suspicious, me standing in the stall not doing anything.
After a long time of standing in the stall I left, and walked around trying to find Lucy. She was out back by herself, smoking a cigarette, left hand on her stomach. "You're never going to believe what I just heard," I told her. My chin was trembling.
"Are you OK?" She put her hand on the side of my face. She was sincerely concerned. "Raymond, the long-haired guy that works in the clean room? He tried to convince me you've been intimate with Pete Pierson." (I'm cleaning this up a little, since this is a family site).
Lucy's shoulders sagged. "You didn't know?"
I told her no, I didn't. She was, I don't know, she was very nice about it, but the way she told me that yeah, she had been sleeping off and on with him for sometime, it made me realize that it had never occurred to her not to sleep with him. Or to tell me.
So now I had to ask her the next question, right?
"Is there anyone else you're sleeping with? Other than me and him?"
She lowered her voice. "Well, yeah. Aren't you?"
I couldn't help myself. "No. Who else?"
"You mean here, at work, or everywhere?"
Well, it turns out she had slept with about two hundred guys, and was currently intimate with about ten or so, off and on. She seemed genuinely surprised it bothered me, and after I questioned her further about it, a little irritated. She threw her cigarette down and went back inside without saying goodbye.
About a week later she showed up at my apartment. She still had some of her clothes there. It had been a miserable week. I'd see her at work, and she'd just give me this tight little smile and keep on walking. Plus, not that this is important, but it was embarrassing that all my friends, used to seeing us always together at breaks, and sitting next to each other in meetings, now saw we were apart.
When she came over the apartment, we both started talking at once. She put her fingers on my lips and told me she really liked me, I was a really nice guy, but she wanted her freedom too. She started pulling her clothes off the hangers in the closet, then stopped, turned around, and told me she was pregnant. Talk about shocks! My heart started racing. I grabbed both her wrists, interrupting her to say let's keep the baby, I'll marry you so our child won't be born out of wedlock, we'll save up and buy a little place together.
She bit her lip. "Arnie…." I kept talking to her, then talking at her as she tugged her wrists free and wandered away, walking into my kitchen. "I need my freedom." I followed her. She said she didn't want to wind up in a supermarket somewhere, five years from now, shopping for food.
I took the initiative. I will support our child, I told her. But it needs both parents. It needs to grow up in a stable environment.
Well, she thought about that for quite a while, sitting up on the kitchen counter, smoking a cigarette and rubbing her forehead. I stood in front of her the whole time, not saying anything, like maybe my silence would win her over.
Finally she came out of her thoughts, let out a sigh, then reached out and put both her hands on top of my head, cigarette still smoking. She had a look on her face like she was swallowing something that's good for you. "You'll support the baby?"
"Of course! Of course I'll support the baby! Why wouldn't I?" I looked left and right in one of those glancing-for-a-bible gestures people make when they want everyone to know they're telling the truth.
We struck a bargain. We would get married, but she would still be able to do anything she wanted to. With whomever she wanted to.
We had a honeymoon. We went to Santa Barbara, where we got a room in a fancy hotel right on the ocean, walked up and down the main street each day looking at the people, and wandering through the shops, saw the Mission and the Courthouse, and one day took a drive up into the Santa Inez Mountains, to visit Solvang, a kind of Bavarian village. Each night we wound up eating at the same place, a great seafood restaurant with mesquite cooking called Famous Fish Enterprise.
We also spent a lot of time alone in our room, being husband and wife.
Once we got back, we found a larger apartment, over in the northern section of San Antonio. Those were great times, and I've told Cindy about them often. I remember Lucy and me on Saturdays, eating lunch out, then going around to the malls, trying to decide how we should decorate the baby's room, picking out a crib together, everything (I started crying as I typed this sentence).
Sometimes Lucy would tell me at work she'd be coming home late that night, and I'd watch TV, flipping through catalogs of baby clothes, waiting for her. She was never obvious about it. She never rubbed it in my face. And the thing is, I never thought of her, and don't now, as some kind of "loose woman" or anything. I mean, it was just the way she was. She'd meet some guy, find him attractive, he'd find her attractive, and they'd wind up being intimate with each other. She never pretended to the guy she was single, and she never pretended to me she wasn't doing it. And we'd still have normal relations too.
After Cindy was born, she didn't want to leave her alone too often, so sometimes a guy would come over our place. We had a spare bedroom in case my parents ever visited, with a bed in it, and that's where she and the guy would go. I'd usually stay in Cindy's room then, or the kitchen.
Why didn't I leave?
Well, for one thing, if I left her, I'd also be leaving my daughter. Lucy was a very decent person, and there's no doubt at all in my mind she'd give me generous visitation rights, but visiting isn't the same as living there, where you go to sleep with your family each night, and get up in the middle of the night because they want a glass of water, and wake up with them in the morning.
For another, I did really love Lucy. I mean she really was the one who "did it for me". I'd see her at the hallway mirror, all dressed up, putting earrings in, and she'd just take my breath away. It was real hard getting used to the idea of her going out on dates, or bringing her dates home, but I guess over time you can get used to just about anything. Plus, there were still lots of times when it was just the three of us, her, me and Cindy on a rainy Saturday night, sitting on the living room carpet, singing songs to each other, or suddenly deciding in the middle of the day to make a cake, or planting tulip bulbs together, all three of us, in this tiny little patch of ground we had off our patio. I wanted to be a part of her life. I wanted to see how she turned out, what she was like at thirty, and fifty, and seventy.
And, for another reason, I guess there was a part of me that did admire her, and was willing to let her be "free" unlike all the rest of us. There was a part of me that I guess sensed that I might very well be the only man in the world who would be willing to put up with her behaviour, and be a base for her, and that without me, there'd still be a Lucy, but there'd no longer be the Lucy, for good or bad, I fell in love with.
After the first few years, we stopped being intimate with each other, but we stayed really close, especially with raising Cindy. The landlord started having relations with her, and sometimes, afterwards, he and I would have a beer together, and just talk about things. Sometimes the landlord would come up and she'd be out, or have someone else in the room, so we'd kill a couple of hours together watching TV, or teaching Cindy to read. I know this all sounds weird. A couple of times I'd come home and after a while the door to the back bedroom would open and someone famous would come out. Once it was this older man, with shaggy black hair, who spoke in a British accent and was a little sheepish at first, but then was real decent towards me. I kept looking at him and looking at him because I knew I had seen him somewhere before, like on TV or something. Finally, I realized it was Ron Wood, who some of you may remember from the Rolling Stones.
Also, and I want to make this point so there's no confusion: this is something she did for free. No one ever paid her any money, the landlord never reduced our rent, etc. She just really liked being intimate with a lot of different guys. And it wasn't every night. It was maybe a couple of times a week.
One Friday night when Cindy was four, I came home with a big bag of Mexican takeout, our typical "kick off the weekend" meal, and Lucy was standing at the kitchen counter, trying to open a can of soup with one of those hand-held can openers. She looked up at me as I came in. "I can't do this," she said. She started crying. I set the bag of food down, took the can away from her, told her don't worry, I'll do it. She shook her head, flinging tears. "I can't do this anymore," she said.
We got a divorce. She stayed in our apartment, and I moved into a smaller place near downtown. As I was packing up my stuff to leave, going over in my mind what I should say to her before I walked out of the place we had shared for four years, the lives we had shared for six years, I noticed she was putting all of Cindy's stuff on the bed next to my stuff. So I got Cindy.
About six months later, I dropped by the old place like I sometimes did, to show Lucy some recent pictures I had taken of Cindy. No answer to my knock. I went around the front to the landlord's. He told me she moved everything out, about a week ago. Had no idea where she was, or why she left.
That was in 1990. I've haven't heard from her in the ten plus years since.
I never really understood what she meant by "this."
Well, that's my life. At least up to this point.